Sonoma State University’s Rhiannon Jones, a remarkable young woman with a story to tell and a message to be heard, won the title of Miss Sonoma County on March 2. This win was not only a personal victory for her, but also a marker on the road to LGBTQ+ equality and acceptance.
In the 73-year history of the pageant, Jones is the first openly lesbian Miss Sonoma County. Jones’s win was a step in the right direction for the LGBTQ+ community, however, it is not the only thing she wants to be remembered for. Jones’s platform is the pageant and the cause she advocates for is speaking out against sexual assault.
She is using her victory in the pageant to speak out against rape and promote accessible resources for sexual assault survivors.
Part of the reason she is so passionate about her platform is because she is also a survivor of sexual assault. She was raped by a coworker on Dec. 23 of last year and has been steadily recovering since. Like many other victims, she found out how hard it is to get justice and support after the incident.
For the talent portion of the pageant, Jones painted a phoenix, which she compared to her own story. “I like the whole story about the phoenix, about how when it burns it comes back from its ashes. You come back stronger,” she said.
Despite her transparency on the topic, she still finds it difficult to talk about. However, regardless of her panic attacks, her history with mental illness, and the emotional trauma that lingered, she is determined to try and prevent it from happening to another person.
“Taking action and being in a public atmosphere means I can prevent it from happening, especially on campuses,” Jones explained. She believes that, while there is a lot of awareness about sexual assault, there is still very little done to prevent it.
Currently, she is being interviewed by multiple media outlets and will be competing in June for Miss California. While she will not be the first openly-lesbian contestant competing in the Miss California pageant, she is sure to make a splash with her winning personality and well-spoken demeanor.
The pageant supports all the competitors. The pageants help each girl spread her platform and they also can provide financial support.
Kiley Cardamone, the first runner-up, was granted $1,100 in scholarship money. The $1,000 was for being the first runner-up, and $100 for receiving the highest score on the talent portion. She danced to “Bitter Earth” by Dinah Washington and has been dancing for 16 years.
Neysa Hinton, Mayor of Sebastopol and a judge during the competition, said that “it’s a scholarship pageant. It’s not about looks anymore as much as it’s a scholarship program.”
Cardamone, along with Jones, gained valuable lifelong experiences. She explained that, “The Miss Sonoma competition helped push me out of my comfort zone and helped me learn more about myself in the last two months than I knew about myself in the past 19 years.”